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Farouk Vs Otedola: Redefining Integrity
He is diminutive but brave. At times, he can be brash, and at other times, he is a bundle of humour and wit. He has combined all these virtues to place himself in a good stead on the Nigerian political scene within the last 13 years of civil rule.
Notwithstanding his small height and stature, Farouk Muhammed Lawan cannot be lost in a crowd. He is loquacious and methodical. His meteoric rise in the political scene had seen him presiding over a number of major committees in the House of Representatives namely committees on Appropriation, Finance and Education.
From the days of Alhaji Ghali Na’Ábba as the Speaker of the House, he has maintained a steady rise to stardom. He stood like the Rock of Gilbatrar behind Na’Abba during the latter’s battle against former President Olusegun Obasanjo. While the Speaker could not retain his seat in the House, Farouk survived like a cat with nine lives.
Since the botched controversial third term agenda of Obasanjo, Farouk’s fame has also been on a steady upward swing. As the arrow head of a shadowy coalition in the parliament, Integrity Group, he radiated confidence in speech and gait in and at the precinct of the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.
The campaign of sleaze by the pro and anti-third term groups witnessed what became a season of missile of cheques and oscillated to the dramatic dumping of supposed heaps of local currency meant to facilitate an alleged elongation of tenure of Obasanjo after serving the constitutionally recognized two terms of four years each. Farouk became an instant star and has remained as constant as the proverbial Northern star.
Of course, his image again soared at the inception of the current dispensation. The controversy over the choice of a new speaker for the House provided another opportunity for some hawks to torpedo the zoning policy of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The coalition went back to the trenches and came out smoking voraciously to threaten and outsmart the party and particularly the interest of the South-West, which had been favoured to clinch the seat based on the party’s permutation before and after the 2011 elections. Obasanjo picked the gauntlet, challenging the perceived injustice against his zone. Many other party leaders promised that the choice of Aminu Tambuwal as Speaker must be reversed. Rather than yield to what they saw as cheap blackmail, the hawks regrouped to strategise.
To placate the South-West PDP leaders, the new power bloc in the House resolved to expand the granite political coalition, which was mandated to work on the aggrieved stakeholders from the zone. The team, which comprised Farouk , quickly jetted out to Lagos to hold closed-door and intense consultations with diverse groups that could assist in changing the focus of the cry of marginalization by PDP leaders in the South-West. From then, the agitation partly subsided, though Obasanjo and a few others consistently kept it in the burner.
Apparently, the brouhaha over fuel subsidy buoyed the clout of Farouk when he was named to preside over an ad-hoc committee to probe the oil sector. While the probe progressed, the committee chairman and all its members were the cynosure of all eyes, especially due to the theatrics and melodrama that characterized the committee’s sittings.
Two main factors had triggered the public enthusiasm and even consternation, one of which was the famed integrity of the dramatis personae. Coupled with it was the shocking revelation of how a cartel in the oil industry had literally swindled the beleaguered country of a whopping $3trillion in the name of oil subsidy import. The public concern was further aggravated by insinuations that some powerful members of the oil cartel, colluding with other influential forces, were trying to kill the report of the committee. The cacophonous views in official quarters almost lend credence to the alarm.
It is not that the fear about an alleged surreptitious move to kill the report of the probe has melted away. Rather, some critics believe the current claim and counter-claims by Farouk and an oil chief, Mr. Femi Otedola over an alleged $600,000 could be part of the supposed ploy to consign the report to the dustbin. They argued that the claim that Farouk allegedly collected bribes from Otedola with a promise to leave out the name of his oil firm from the list of firms found culpable by the committee was meant to distract the public. This is against the backdrop of ceaseless demands by groups and individuals for the law to take its course.
On the other hand, there are observers who believe that the allegation is too weighty to be ignored if the country was truly committed to the war on graft. According to them, the matter should be properly and painstakingly investigated in order to sanitise the oil industry, which at the moment is enmeshed in scandals.
Another school of thought is that the case presents an opportunity for the country to test all relevant laws concerning corruption. This is because all those laws make it an offence for any person to offer or accept bribes. The leader of the ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Clark amply corroborated this assertion in his reaction to the Farouk-Otedolagate. He described the entire scandal as a national shame and called for a thorough investigation of both the giver and receiver of the alleged bribes. He was miffed that Lawan, who co-ordinates the Integrity Group could undermine his reputation. “Lawan is a man I trusted so much. I admired him more than any member of the Legislature. He was instrumental to the emergence of Dimeji Bankole and Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as Speakers. He was one of the young men in the House we could rely on; at a point I thought he would be Speaker. He was one Nigerian who would resist corruption. But for me to learn now that he demanded $3 million to delete Otedola’s Zenon from the list of fuel subsidy fraud was shameful and a big disappointment to me,” Clark decried.
However, a prominent activist, Mr Yinka Odumakin saw the hand of Essau and voice of Jacob in the scandal. He suspected a deliberate plan to hoodwink the citizenry over a matter that bordered on the heart of the nation. He stated: “The issue is about the House of corruption wanting to preserve itself. The Lawan Farouk report touched the major artery of corruption in the country and that was going to be terminal. A rearguard attempt succeeded in pinning a bribe on Farouk through a major player in the operations of slush fund by the ruling party, Femi Otedola. It is the same script used in the power probe where Ndidi Elumelu committee’s N5.2billion malfeasance was used to bury $16 billion scam.” But he urged the people to be vigilant and avoid being deceived again. He said: “We are wiser now. We will get to the bottom of Otedola/Lawan saga without brushing aside the $20billion subsidy theft that led to all this. That all those involved in the subsidy have been shielded so far, while the presidency is busy showing video of a sub-plot clearly shows what this is designed to achieve.”